I believe I have already made myself very clear with the first two posts that we are madly in love with turbines. We install them in rivers (inside of different-shaped power plants) as well as in oceans and seas. Since these last two give us more options to choose from than the rivers, we gratefully exploited these options as well. Of course, I am talking about different sources of energy (waves, tides, currents) we learned to obtain the energy from. Since we have it all covered, I think it’s time for us to see, how it all begins.
Where to start? Research. But I just want to… Research.
Actually, in a way, research is always the first thing we do – we just start from different points of view. The research can begin with searching for a good location, materials, environmental factors, impact on the environment,… wherever we start, its really not important – the important thing is that we come to the bottom of the given problem and deal with it in whole! The research can be done by ourselves or we let someone else do it for us.
If we would like to construct something in the river, we need to make the research about geography (location and the close by locations) and geology (we don’t want to be surprised when the water just wouldn’t want to penetrate into the ground). We also need to research characteristics of the water body (speed of the current, amount of water etc.) and the environment surrounding it (we need to know if there are some species, that could potentially do harm, are protected etc.). One of the species we really don’t want to have anywhere near is the Zebra mussel (read more about them). These mussels are capable of producing a lot of offspring in short period of time and have many different effects on the ecosystem. However, they are also capable of filling the tubes in power plants with their shells and preventing the free passage of water. When this happens, the construction (or part of it) can break which leads to very high maintenance costs.
We should also keep in mind, that there are some areas, that can be labeled as important luxury grounds (fishing, travel, etc.) or transportation routes. In case we would like to build a power plant in a place like this, we would need to get many allowances and get the green light on all of them before we start building. More or less the rule is, that the project that would bring more money to the state wins, which very nicely sums up the reasons why most of the conservational projects don’t go through (except if we are talking about protected areas).
Oceans and seas
When doing research for the power plant in the ocean, we also should take a look at the geography and geology. Of course, we can be sure, that the water there won’t penetrate to the ground (and we really don’t want it to) but we should know how the land is shaped (the continental shelf including potential threats). However, it is also very important to take a look at the characteristics of the place (water currents, tides, waves..) since the location itself determines the whole development turbine. It is also very important to consider the protected areas, luxury areas, areas of transport etc., to avoid any conflicts and to be sure to get all the needed allowances.
The most important thing from an environmental perspective is to list all the species and habitat types on this location. Firstly, this is how we see if there are some protected species (could be rear or have a significant role in the ecosystem) or protected habitat types present. Most often than not, the permissions are rejected if these areas overlap, however, if the overlapping area is very small, the construction can in some cases still be allowed. Secondly, it is very important to know what diversity was like before the construction. The changes after the construction are usually negative (especially when building a dam) or neutral. Sometimes, the changes can also be positive and can increase the diversity but to be able to see the changes happening, we need to do the monitoring. This is done with the help of organisms (called the bioindicator organisms) that can tell us a lot about the ecosystem health by just being there. Mostly, these organisms are small and we need special sampling techniques to be able to get to them.
When we decide what and where we want to build the power plant, we also need to decide what will we build it from. The material we will use should have a long life, serve our purpose, be cheap, doesn’t release hazardous substances in the environment and is anti-corrosive (the list could keep going but I think it’s enough…). I used the word ”should” since all of this is not a must but will for sure lower the maintenance and operational costs (as well as help you avoid many penalties) in the future. We also need to think about the characteristics of the material we will use since some materials attract the sessile organisms. These organisms are the ones, that live ”glued” to the solid surface (mussels, barnacles, corals etc.). In case we don’t want anything living in/on our construction, we need to choose a material that will prevent it.
And so it begins! With a prototype.
Until now we should already have some idea on how the thing should behave. When we combine all of our gathered knowledge (sampling, calculations, research, etc.) we should be able to decide how it will look like. Whatever we do – the first prototype will most probably be a disaster – a disaster we will learn a ton of new and important things from. There are two possibilities to test a prototype – the real world or the laboratory. When testing the prototype in the real environment we actually see the reality of its performance but we also risk losing the prototype (since we can’t prevent the worst from happening). In the laboratory, the conditions can be carefully monitored but since it is not the real world, we will sooner or later need to test it outside of the box as well. All in all, all the gathered information give us an important insight and only because of them we can keep improving the prototype (could be for some years) before it is ready for use. There will be many ups and downs but the important thing is, that we adapt to the challenges, stay motivated and not give up.
Have you ever considered how much research needs to be done before we can bring something to life? What part of the whole procedure do you find most interesting and why? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, I would be very happy to read them.